Reply to post: Re: The case of Aaron Swartz

Mr President, is this a war on hackers – or a war on people stopping hackers?

Michael Wojcik Silver badge

Re: The case of Aaron Swartz

Yes, but it's a bit disingenuous to use him as the poster-boy for the particular line of argument Thompson is making. Swartz wasn't conducting research; he stole a bunch of copyrighted property from JSTOR, which is owned by a private (nonprofit) company. It was a stupid stunt that should have earned nothing more than a slap on the wrist, of course, but it was still theft and by no means research.

I'm no fan of the police state or anti-racketeering laws; if I had my druthers, the latter would be off the books and prosecutors like Ortiz and Heymann (who had charge of the Swartz case) would be fired. But in fact the abuse of RICO-style statutes (including the CFAA) is so widespread that Thompson wouldn't have had to look far for more examples. That's particularly true of asset forfeiture, which is a major source of funding for police departments.

Swartz is a tragic case and an example of how abusive the US criminal justice system is. But frankly he's not a great example of the chilling use of overreaching laws. Outrageously excessive penalties, unnecessary prosecutions, and extortion by the state - all of that - but Swartz was committing a crime (albeit a rather trivial one) and apparently had no affirmative defense for doing so.

I think a much clearer example is the case Jessica Cooper brought against Leon Walker, who read his estranged wife's email with the password she gave him and alerted another parent to the fact that she was putting that parent's child in danger. To Cooper, that calls for jail time.

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